THE ARCHER AFFAIR - The outcast: Hague withdraws party whip from Lord Archer

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The Independent Online
LORD ARCHER of Weston-super-Mare faced near-certain expulsion from the Conservative Party last night and a legal challenge which could re-examine allegations that he slept with a prostitute.

Lord Archer's political career was effectively killed off after William Hague stripped him of the party whip in the House of Lords and ordered an investigation into allegations against him. The millionaire novelist's troubles deepened still further when the Daily Star announced that it would appeal against a pounds 500,000 damages award made after a libel trial in 1987.

The trial, which was brought by Lord Archer over claims that he slept with prostitute Monica Coghlan, cleared him of the allegations. Lord Archer stepped down as Tory candidate for mayor of London on Saturday after he admitted asking a friend, Ted Francis, to provide him with a false alibi.

Executives at the newspaper, published by Express Newspapers, said yesterday that they were disputing the judgment on the basis of new evidence. Lawyers for the Daily Star have also written to the disgraced politician, asking him to repay the damages and costs awarded plus interest - a sum said to amount to more than pounds 3m. The Daily Star's decision to pursue the civil case came as Scotland Yard confirmed that there were unlikely to be any immediate developments in the criminal investigation Lord Archer faces. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "We are in the early stages of our inquiry. It will inevitably take some time to ascertain the extent of the inquiries we may need to make and to gather and assess the evidence. Careful consideration will be given to all aspects of this matter."

Mr Hague attempted to deflect criticism of his own treatment of Lord Archer yesterday by withdrawing the whip from him in the Lords, effectively expelling him from the Parliamentary party and preventing him from sitting on the Conservative benches. The Tory leader also instigated the first ever inquiry by the Tories' own Ethics and Integrity Committee when he referred Lord Archer on grounds of bringing the party into disrepute.

As speculation grew that more revelations about Lord Archer would surface this week, Mr Hague claimed that he had acted swiftly once a substantial allegation was made. "This is the end of politics for Jeffrey Archer. Let me make this clear - I will not tolerate behaviour like this is in my party. This will be an example to others and I will not hesitate to act in the same way in the future," he said.

"The Conservative Party is changing; in the past, such matters have dragged on for weeks, but this has been dealt with in a matter of days. He has let the Conservative Party down badly. He misled the party chairman and the new allegations were cause for us to take the action that we took and refer him to the committee."

Earlier in the day, Mr Hague was asked if he felt any blame himself, as he had endorsed Lord Archer. He said: "No, we were given false assurances by Jeffrey Archer and as soon as we have had an allegation which has been substantiated and proved to be true we have acted quickly and correctly."

Mr Hague denied claims that he was personally responsible for the Conservative's current problems, declaring that Lord Archer had given him "false assurances" about his character.

Opposition parties seized on the chaos now surrounding the Tories' choice for mayor. The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said his party now had the only candidate in the field - former banker Susan Kramer - and he said he would now be making the contest his top priority, after the Kensington and Chelsea by-election.

The Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam said Mr Hague must take some responsibility for the Archer debacle. She said: "William Hague said he supported Jeffrey Archer because of his integrity and probity. That was obviously flawed judgement because those are certainly not words you would associate with Jeffrey Archer."

The Tories also seemed to be in a struggle to find a new candidate as a series of top names touted as possibles rules themselves out. David Mellor and Virginia Bottomley were named as possibles.

Lord Archer also scrapped an appointment to turn on the Christmas tree lights at a London restaurant last night. He had been due to appear at the Covent Garden branch of the Italian Ponti chain but, a spokeswoman said, a fax cancelling his appearance arrived yesterday morning.

INSIDE

Further reports pages 2-3

Parliament page 8

David Thomas Review, cover story

Leading article, Donald Macintyre Review, page 3

The editor who broke Archer Media, Review, page 11

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